Today's New York Times has commentary from five distinguished scholars -- historians and law professors -- on the three-fifths compromise. The discussion begins:
Emory University students marched in anger last week over a decision that was reached more than 200 years ago. They were outraged, among other things, that the school’s president called the Constitution’s “three-fifths compromise” one of the “pragmatic half-victories” that assured the union.
The commentary is from Hank Chambers, Ray Diamond, Paul Finkelman, Leslie Harris, and Sandy Levinson. It's a terrific set of exchanges.
I'm surprised in all this talk of compromise there hasn't been more discussion of the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Time was when historians viewed it as a good compromise because it kept the Union together for another decade -- long enough for Lincoln to be elected and for the cause of anti-slavery to grow to the point where there was a Civil War to preserve the Union and end slavery. I'm wondering if we think differently about that compromise now? Or perhaps we think that Compromise of 1850 actually wasn't necessary to preserving the Union in 1850.
Anyway I'm looking forward to more talk of the compromises in 1787 and 1850 and other points in our nation's history (like the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830) when slavery conferred power on the slave-owners. Perhaps we'll realize -- or relearn the lesson -- that economic and demographic reality so frequently trump the considerations of humanity.